One day I was standing in the garden in front of our house, looking at the wall of the house and thinking to myself how I could paint the base of the building, the paint of which was peeling a little here and there. It must have been a day in spring. The time when ideas also begin to sprout. The time when there is time for renewal.
As I stand there, lost in my thoughts, a voice calls loudly to me from behind: „Naa? Nothing to do?“ it crows. I flinch imperceptibly – rudely jolted out of my thoughts – close my eyes inwardly for half a second and turn around. And there they stand: My two gods‘ mouthpieces. Klaus, my neighbor, and his wife Berta. He is 69 years old, a trained carpenter and retired early as a locomotive engineer after several heart attacks. He has only a few teeth left in his mouth. The private health insurance system prevents him from going to the dentist. He can no longer afford it. (Yes, yes. It’s his own fault. After all, he had his benefits in private insurance when he was young. He should have known beforehand that it would be expensive. Yes, yes. I know…) Whoever sees him certainly estimates him to be ten years older. His wife Berta with her two pigtails stands curiously next to him. Both are round as a ball and she is a little hard of hearing. When Berta talks, she quickly becomes enthusiastic and then quite loud and shrill. Sometimes I then have the feeling that I can only hear my blood rushing in my ears and that I will soon faint. And when Berta talks, she likes to talk a lot. But today she doesn’t seem to feel like it.
Both are kind-hearted people who you can see that they still love each other after the many years of their marriage. Never at a loss for advice and help. People who would share many things with you. Even if one is only a distant neighbor.
Above all, they are thoroughly practical. That’s why I call them my mouthpieces of the gods. Practical is a term coined by my wife when she tries to describe the way I solve certain problems around our house, for example. The solutions are usually not pretty. They serve their purpose. And they do so for exactly as long as they need to. After that, they break down or dissolve. Practical, that is. She always says this with a somewhat ironic and amused undertone. But sometimes a touch of despair creeps in. I can’t help it, though. It means doing things the way nature does as well. Everything is transient. Everything has its purpose. And everything also has its time. After that it goes again.
Compared to Klaus and Berta, however, everything I do is the work of a vain peacock! They are still so much more practical than I am!
With the touch of an acquired guilty conscience, which always arises with a disturbing automatism when I am accused of idleness, I explain to them that I am by no means just standing idly in the garden and staring holes in the air. I explain that, on the contrary, I am thinking about a new coat of paint. Maybe in Swedish red… or something.
Now the gods let it thunder! Once I go beyond purely practical considerations and already their messengers are sent to me for punishment!
„Red?!“ it crows back incredulously, almost a bit belligerently. „Why not pink!!!“
Klaus leans on my provisional garden gate, which already begins to tilt precariously. So, now abruptly from my beautiful considerations into an interrogation, I can think of no answer. My thoughts circle around justifications. But I realize that in the eyes of these two titans of practicality, everything will sound inadequate. I wring a pained grin as my first rebuttal and reply in a voice begging for gracious understanding, „Well – I don’t know – thought red might be a good fit.“ ‚Weak. Very weak reasoning. Congratulations. Now they really think you’re a completely over-stretched beau‘ it promptly goes through my head.
„Black! Bitumen!“ it crows back, mercilessly ignoring my weak retort. „It’ll hold! No water gets through! Only costs a few euros at the hardware store and is just as good as skirting paint! But much cheaper!“
„Oh?“ I express polite surprise and interest. „There is?“
„Sure,“ it crows, „you can come and have a look at ours. We have them all around. Red!“ Berta nods in a friendly manner.
Klaus lets go of my garden gate and it straightens up a little again. Even if not as far as it once was before the visit of the two. They continue their morning walk and leave me alone with new thoughts. Or better with old thoughts, which they – unknowingly, like mouthpieces of the gods – have awakened in me again.
You were so right! Why not pink! I recognized the trumpery and the nonsensical decorating and prettifying in my intention to repaint the base. My thought was „What is wrong with you that you want to focus on such nonsense? What balance has shifted that, in addition to the function of preserving substance, this paint must also be beautiful? And why do you indulge in such thoughts? Is the place not good as it is? Why do you let your ego drive you to such things?“ Questions upon questions, to which I had no answer.
The gray base has not yet been painted. Damaged areas were repaired with white, inexpensive masonry paint, so that no moisture can penetrate. However, I could not yet bring myself to „bitumen black“.
I do not want to preach forced renunciation of beautiful things to anyone with this story! During a conversation in which I came to talk about my little old car, a participant looked at me skeptically for a long time and then – after careful consideration – said in her Eifel dialect: „But a new car is already something beautiful, isn’t it! I’m happy about my new car!“ I completely agreed with her and told her about the vehicles I had owned throughout my life and what joy I had in them. Only now is not the time for me to worry about or focus my attention on new cars. And so it is with the base: if we absolutely had to have a red base: We would have had it. There would have been no dogma against it. I would have bought the paint, my wife would have looked at me, thought of my practical disposition, and said, „Let me paint that.“ But since the above morning considerations were just a nice athletic exercise of my mind, with the goal of regaining more influence over external events, the pedestal remained gray.
If you were to see Klaus and Berta’s house, you would surely be speechless in the face of this nightmare in gray and black and concrete. But it is only a nightmare in our local social categories. I believe, with regard to eternity and otherworldly truths, the house is of a very special eternal and universal dreamlike quality.
So these two simple people taught me so much more that I can only repeat: the gods spoke from them. And the gods always told me: „Don’t get lost! This place is good as it is. It offers you protection, warmth and shelter. It needs nothing from you. Don’t get attached to the outside. Understand the inside and realize that tomorrow you may no longer be here. And how will you leave joyfully when you have made it sooo nice for yourself here?“
Such liberation as that in which these two live, without being aware of this grace, I have not achieved until today. Perhaps I cannot achieve it either, simply because I am aware of it.